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Time for a change?

Chris Denton Chris Denton has an extensive record in arts marketing spanning nearly 20 years during which he has worked with many of the UK’s biggest cultural organisations including The Barbican in London.

Chris recently launched his own international consultancy in branding, strategic marketing planning, business development and digital affairs.

He is a member of the AMA Board and in this guest blog post he looks at how his experiences around the world have influenced his current thinking.

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How organisations recognise the need for change and, more importantly, make change happen will perhaps be one of the most important and defining characteristics of a successful cultural organisation over the coming years. I believe that those who can take entrepreneurial thinking from the page to the people will be at a distinct advantage as we struggle to cope with the economic plight of our times.

This theme of change has been pre-occupying me for a while now. Having been asked to provide a blog about what we here in the UK arts marketing business might learn from my experiences with other countries in which I have had the pleasure of working in during recent months, I realise that change is a theme which is becoming increasingly common to us all, despite how advanced we might be.

It is true that how we currently approach arts marketing is, for many outside of the UK, highly sophisticated and something to which many aspire. I never for one moment think that we are perfect and I often go to great pains to point out that translating great theory into successful practice is a long and difficult road down which we are all at various stages. But that said, yes we have a strong track record in relationship based marketing – using data well and building effective CRM strategies. Yes, we have embraced digital marketing and are holding our own in the struggle to win virtual hearts and minds. Yes, we have some of the world’s strongest cultural brands. This is recognised and applauded by many and we should rightly allow ourselves some sense of pride in this.

But in working with a variety of clients, large and small, in the UK and abroad, I realise that success in the future lies not so much in knowing what it is we want to achieve, but more in ensuring we give ourselves the best chance of making it happen. There is a common thread that links the successes I have had in my career and that is the willingness of those around me to accept change of one form or another and more importantly, to want to work together to make it happen. Of course, we are in the business of changing behaviour – isn’t that what marketing is all about? – but it has never been more important to change our own behaviours and approaches to how we do what we do. It is all very well ‘talking the talk’, but…

We are at a point where in order to survive; we must be adaptable and flexible. The current economic situation calls for some difficult decisions to be made. Those who can show entrepreneurial thinking and can make it happen will stand a better chance of emerging stronger on the other side. So in thinking about how far ahead we might be in the UK compared to others, I actually find myself thinking that fundamentally we are all at the same point.

Yes, we are all at a position unique to our organisation that has been shaped by a number of things – resources, experience, audience expectation and so  on – but the definition of success going forward will be just how far we move from this position, the ease with which we can do this and the way in which we bring others with us.

So although there is much we can and should feel rightly proud about here in the UK, the advice I would pass on from my experiences here and abroad is to make practical, achievable and realistic plans for the future that are appropriate to YOUR organisation but which still contain ambition and aspiration. There is little point looking with envy at others if the reality of your situation is that you are already stretched and pushed to the limits. But this does not mean you cannot or should not change what you do and how you do it – and I don’t just mean in terms of marketing.

I believe that managing change and managing it well will be one of the important pre-requisites to successful arts marketing over the coming years.

Chris Denton

Don’t fear the buzzword: why resilience should matter to you

Mark Robinson Mark Robinson runs Thinking Practice, which works with arts and cultural organisations to improve impact and increase resilience. He also works in leadership development and coaching. He was previously Executive Director, arts Council England North East.

Find out more from his blog http://thinkingpractice.blogspot.com

In this guest blog post he looks at what we need to do as arts marketers to meet new management and financial demands.

 Adaptive Cycle

If you had enough spare time to draw up an arts version of buzzword/bullshit bingo (see an example here) you would probably have added resilience to it in the last year. The R word is now common when talking about the ability of the arts sector or individual organisations to survive and thrive the new turbulent and austere times. I feel both pleased and a bit awkward about this.

I picked up ideas around the application of theories from social-ecology to the arts in 2008, probably from Clare Cooper at Mission Models Money. I advocated it as a more appropriate focus for funders than sustainability, and grew to twitch at the question ‘do you have a sustainable business?’ because it suggests sustainability is acquired or given, rather than developed from within yourself.

I then did a big literature review and research project which led to Arts Council England publishing Making Adaptive Resilience Real last July. This has been widely read and I’ve been lots of places to talk about it. Resilience then popped up in Arts Council England’s third goal in their 10 year strategic framework.

So if resilience has become the new buzzword, I do feel a little responsible for spreading the virus. My definition of adaptive resilience, by the way, is:

"Adaptive resilience is the capacity to remain productive and true to core purpose and identity whilst absorbing disturbance and adapting with integrity in response to changing circumstances."

The arts sector is generally allergic to buzzwords. This is something marketers may have experienced, as it’s a profession not without its own buzzwords. Buzzwords bring on attacks of resistance, scepticism, eye-rolling, nose-cutting and face-spiting. That all funders might talk of, say, diversity or collaboration doesn’t (necessarily) make it a tick-box you should pay lip service to. It may be an idea whose time has genuinely come.

So here are 5 reasons not to fear the buzzword.

  1. Times are tight and turbulent. There is probably little you can do about that, at least in your day job. You can, however, do something about your own qualities and assets. That’s resilience.
  2. Resilience is at least a buzzword we can apply to ourselves as well as our organisations or sectors, and we know what it means in general. How resilient do you feel today? Tired? Hungover? Fragile? Or fighting fit and ready for anything that might happen? That’s resilience too.
  3. Understanding adaptive resilience helps make sense of experience. Arguably all living things and ecologies go through versions of the adaptive cycle – just knowing that can help us not to panic and then to plan and rebuild.
  4. The arts sector is rich in assets that are often too little known, shared or sold. Actively using them makes you more resilient by bringing in income, and creating connection. And who’s better placed to investigate and get the word out about what you find than you?
  5. Resilience is not something that can be given to you, although others can help. You can strategically (there’s another buzzword!) build up the 8 characteristics of resilient arts organisations I suggest in Making Adaptive Resilience Real. Marketing experts can play a real key role in establishing and communicating a culture of shared purpose by helping to create some level of predictable income by bringing in audiences. You also have a fantastic amount of information about what’s going on in the world - ‘situation awareness’ – to use a phrase I suspect will never become a buzzword. So use it to empower yourself.

 Mark Robinson, Thinking Practice

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